Apr 28, 2009

Teaser Tuesday: A Map of Paradise

From A Map of Paradise: A Novel of Nineteenth Century Hawaii by Linda Ching Sledge, 1997. Molly, the young daughter of immigrants, learns about Hawaii.

"A true child of the islands, Molly could name in Hawaiian the separate winds that blew through Nuuanu Valley by the time she was seven. Nalani had taught her to breathe with the earth, to feel the ola that coursed through land and sky and sea, to see akuas hidden in the mists, to trace the footsteps of tiny creatures called menehunes in the ancient ditches and canals that crisscrossed the hidden reaches of the valley and thus to make herself one with the spirit-infused land." (ch. 12)

Choose two sentences at random from a book of your choice: Teaser Tuesday meme courtesy of MizB at Should Be Reading

Apr 25, 2009

The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho, a review

The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho, published April 7, 2009 by Harper hardcover.

This is the first book by Paulo Coelho that I've read and I believe his first mystery novel.

I was immediately struck by the irony in the book, which blends a mystery/thriller plot with extensive social commentary.

The main character, a wealthy Russian businessman, Igor, attends the Cannes Film Festival in France to try to win back his ex-wife, who will be there with her husband, a famous fashion designer. Igor sends Ewa cryptic and menacing messages by email saying he will begin "destroying worlds" to win her back.

At the same time, Igor critically observes the crowd at Cannes - the Superclass as he refers to them, who set superficial standards for dress, behavior, and aspirations.

"Look at the Superclass around us. They think they are so important, so socially aware, because they are willing to pay a fortune for some useless item at a charity auction or to attend a supper organized to raise funds to help the homeless in Rwanda or to save the pandas in China. Pandas and the homeless are all one to them."

Igor becomes a social critic, a political critic, a critic of manners, and more, all the while showing that his socially conscious reasoning clashes with his personal life. How he tries to impress his ex-wife is devilish, to say the least, with the Angel of Death always hovering over his shoulder.

Coelho hints that Igor's "dual" character is like modern society, in that it can be rational and objective on the one hand, and wildly illogical on the other. Another irony in this psychological thriller is that Igor, driven by evil, has an unintended but positive effect on the life of a young model he meets briefly in Cannes.

In The Winner Stands Alone, Coelho writes a chilling thriller and also tackles the problems of the day with a critical eye - frank observations with just a tinge of cynicism.

Book provided by the publisher, for my objective review.


Apr 23, 2009

One Lovely Blog Award

I love the name of this award, One Lovely Blog Award. Many thanks to Suzanne of Chick With Books for passing it on.
this award was also given to me in 2009 by Booklogged A Reader's Journal

"One Lovely Blog Award goes to new blogs and blogging friends.

The rules are: Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who granted the award and his or her blog link. Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you've newly discovered."

The award goes to
In Spring it is the Dawn
Carol's Notebook
Living Life and Reading Books
A Striped Armchair
Stacy's Bookblog
Life in the Thumb

Asian American Literary Awards

Here are some books that have recently won awards from the Asian American Writers Workshop.
2008 Winners
Mohsin Hamid The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Harcourt, 2007
Vijay Prashad The Darker Nations, New Press, 2007
Sun Yung Shin Skirt Full of Black, Coffee House Press, 2007
Ed Lin * This Is a Bust, Kaya Press, 2007

2007 Winners
Linh Dinh Borderless Bodies, Factory School, 2006
Amitav Ghosh Incendiary Circumstances: A Chronicle of the Turmoil of Our Times, Houghton Mifflin, 2006
Samrat Upadhyay The Royal Ghosts, Houghton Mifflin, 2006
Gene Yuen Yang* American Born Chinese, First Second Books, 2006

The 2009 Asian American Literary Awards will be announced later this year. Earlier awards are listed at
AAWW Awards

Mysteries in Foreign Lands

Need information on mystery novels set in other countries such as Europe, Asia, and Latin America? See Mysteries in Foreign Lands

Check out contemporary Japanese writer Murakami or a 1998 thriller by Wang Shuo of China.

See U.S. Regional Mysteries for books set in the various parts of the U.S.

Miami, It's Murder
, with Cuban-American journalist-sleuth Britt Montero, by Edna Buchanan.

Uncatalogued by Julie Kaeworth is a booklover's mystery set in Dartmouth College.

Apr 22, 2009

Cuban-American mystery novels by Carolina Garcia-Aguilera

Havana Heat
The Lupe Solano Mystery novels include Bloody Waters (1996), A Miracle in Paradise (1999), Havana Heat (2000), and Bitter Sugar (2001).

She drinks mojitos the way other people drink coffee, wears Manolo Blahnik heels, and hangs with the community of elite Cuban exiles living in and around South Beach, Miami.

Lupe Solano is a private investigator, the main character in a series of mystery novels by Cuban-born, Florida-bred author Carolina Garcia-Aguilera.

In the novels, the avidly anti-Castro father of the P.I. keeps a boat ready to return to Cuba at a moment's notice, at the first sign of "Cuba Libre," something he spends his life waiting for.

On at least two occasions, Lupe uses his boat to sneak into Cuba, investigating lost or confiscated property, finding people, or recovering valuable artwork for her clients. Needless to say, her secret nighttime forays into Cuba provide some good suspense.
A Miracle in Paradise

Bitter Sugar
I found out about mojitos (a drink made with mint leaves, sugar, soda water, and rum) and the Cuban American community in Florida while reading these lively mysteries.

Bloody Waters

Apr 21, 2009

Spiced: A Pastry Chef's True Stories by Dalia Jurgensen, book review

Spiced: A Pastry Chef's True Stories of Trials by Fire, After-Hours Exploits, and What Really Goes on in the Kitchen

There are two things I really liked about Spiced, (2009) a book about becoming a chef and working in restaurant kitchens.

First, the inside info of the goings-on in the off-limits areas of restaurants - the good, the bad, and the funny. And second, the mouth watering descriptions of foods, their preparation, and the unusual pastries and desserts concocted by pastry chefs in three star restaurants.

It was interesting to learn that many chefs work long hours for just average wages, without health insurance, and hit the burn out point often, having to change jobs or rotate the types of food prep they do.

Dalia Jurgensen left her routine job in publishing to attend pastry school and work in a succession of restaurants, preparing appetizers, pastries, main dishes, and finally pastries again. She doesn't have much time to socialize; her off hours are often spent with her coworkers after work, winding down in bars at midnight after the restaurant is closed. She has surprising and not-so-surprising romantic dalliances with various chefs.

What I missed in the book, however, was a stronger story thread that would link up her restaurant and chef experiences and show a progression to the place where she is now. We know that later in her career, she was reviewed by food critics from top newspapers, but this was not an achievement she dwelt on or showed as a high point or culmination of her hard work under various chefs. At least, that was not a strong impression.

The book thus seems to be a chronological account of her career without that main theme to carry it all the way through. Even the ending seems to be "more of the same."

Her unusual desserts in the pastry kitchen, however, sound finger-licking good! Some simpler recipes and a taste of what her book is about can be found at her website, My Spiced Life.

Book provided by the publisher, Putnam Adult, for my objective review.

Apr 19, 2009

Awards, Awards

Let's Be Friends Award
Yet another award, this one from Britt of A Book Habitue. Thanks, Britt.

"Blogs that received the Let’s Be Friends Award are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers."

Kudos to

Jenny Julian at Sunny Sweet Pea
PopInFresh at Popin's Lair
Nely at All About(n)
Mari at MariReads
Sally906 at Books and Musings from Downunder
JLS Hall at Joy's Blog
Lori at Lori's Book Den
Lisa at Books Ahoy

Check out these blogs!

More Awards

The Premio Dardos Award

This award is from Scattie of In My Head. Very neat! Thanks, Scattie!

"This award acknowledges the values that every blogger shows in his or her effort to transmit cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values every day.

The rules to follow are:
1) Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and his or her blog link. 2) Pass the award to 15 other blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgment. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award."

I've passed the award on to
Ruby at The Ruby Canary
Mark David at Absorbed In Words
Fleur at Fleur Fisher Reads
Karen at Euro Crime


Apr 18, 2009


Lemonade Stand Award

Many thanks to Stacy of Stacy's Bookblog for this award! It's much appreciated.

"Here are the rules:1) Put the Lemonade Award logo on your blog or post. 2) Nominate at least 10 blogs that show great attitude or gratitude. 3) Link to your nominees within your post. 4) Let the nominees know that they have received this award by commenting on their blog.5) Share the love and link to the person from whom you received your award."

I'm passing on the award to:
Barb at Exploring Nature
Kay at Kay's Book Shelf
Cathy at Booklady
Caspette at The Narrative Causality

Check out these cool blogs!

Greek Island mystery novels

A list of mysteries set in the Greek islands has been compiled by book blogger Euro Crime.
Also included are
The Doctor of Thessaly by Anne Zouroudi and
Basic Shareholder by Petros Makaris. The above are to be printed/reprinted this year.

See also my reviews of other Greek mystery novels at
More Greek Island Mystery Novels, including The Black Monastery >>
Let me know if anyone has suggestions for other books not included here!

The Tomb of Zeus by Barbara Cleverly is an archaeology mystery published in 2007.

Those who love Greece, the Greek Isles, and Greek mythology will have little problem with the archaeological setting - the island of Crete in the late 1920s.

Laetitia Talbot, a student from Cambridge, is sent by her professor to work on the island with British archaeologist Theodore Russell. Russell has invited her to stay with him and his wife and two other students at his Villa Europa.

When she arrives, Laetitia is disturbed by an air of menace at the villa. When one of the occupants dies, Laetitia's discomfort definitely increases. Was the death a murder or a suicide? She is determined to find out, even if she has to unearth all the secrets surrounding the villa.

Interestingly, the characters in the story parallel the characters in Greek mythology. Theseus of Greek myth arrives in Crete to find and slay the half-man, half-bull Minotaur hidden in a labyrinth underground. Theodore Russell is in Crete at a much later date to unearth ancient Greek statues and temples in archaeological digs. Theodore's complicated family and love life also parallels that of Theseus.

Laetitia is aware of this as she searches for clues to solve the murder. She is helped by a former lover, William Gunning, who is working with her in Crete. Together they uncover an ancient tomb at their work site that only creates a second mystery. Have they found the long-sought tomb of the Greek god, Zeus?

A very enjoyable book that deals with a murder mystery and an archaeological mystery. The plot revolves around Cretan culture, history, mythology, and religion, and also around Laetita's attempts to solve a present day murder in a very exotic locale.

More on antiquities on Crete.

Judith Gould's 2008 novel, Greek Winds of Fury, described as romantic suspense, is a mystery novel without thriller elements of extreme violence, or graphic descriptions of blood and guts, etc. Armchair travelers as well as cozy readers will enjoy this trip into Greece and the island of Samos.

The protagonist Miranda, part Greek and an employee of a well known antiquities establishment in New York City, is delighted to be invited by a former professor to an archaeological dig on Samos during the summer. The crew is trying to find a lost statue of the goddess Hera, created in the th century B.C.

Miranda takes a cruise ship to the island and arrives in Samos to discover dangerous mysteries and a new love interest. She discovers that the ship has been using the identities of real passengers to create false passports and boarding passes for illegal immigrants, who are hustled from a port in Turkey to European ports.

Not only that, but there seems to be smuggling of antiquities from the Samos site to art stores and dealers around the world. Some of the missing pieces Miranda recognizes as part of the shipments to her own place of work in NYC. Crew members of the site on Samos have been disappearing, moreover, and one body is washed ashore after Miranda arrives there. "Big Mike" from the U.S. helps Miranda discover the truth, even at the cost of much danger to themselves.

Gould's detailed and colorful descriptions of place, setting, and people make this book a nice armchair travel piece. The plot will also appeal to mystery lovers and aficionados of Greek culture and antiquity. I confess though that parts of the novel dragged, especially toward the end. Some of the extended dialogue and a gratuitous sex scene that does not clarify or advance the plot could have been cut. I got impatient at the end for the denouement, so to speak, but overall the novel was enjoyable, with a good plot, deft prose, and a good substitute for the real thing - a mystery cruise on the Aegean

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Melody: A Novel, review

Stacy-Deanne, author of Everlasting and Divas of the New Millennium, has written a new book, Melody: A Novel.

From the Product Description:
"Two stories of deadly passion intertwine in this gripping mystery by bestselling author Stacy-Deanne, who weaves a thrilling tale of love and death. Melody Cruz is certain her sister's new boyfriend, the wealthy, charming, and handsome Keith Taylor, has a dark past that he will do anything to hide. Wanting to protect her sister, Melody works to uncover Keith's secrets, not realizing that in doing so, she is sacrificing her own safety -- because Keith will go to any lengths to keep himself in control."

The novel introduces Brianna Morris and Steven Kemp as detectives investigating recent assaults in the city. Melody tries to protect her sister and her best friend from being victims of crime. There are surprising twists to the plot as the investigation moves in unexpected directions. The book is definitely an "adults only" novel.

Stacy-Deanne, a member of the Author's Guild, is also a model, landscape photographer, and editor. She can be reached at stacydeanne1@aol.com

Book provided by the author, for my objective review.

Apr 15, 2009

Book Review: Undress Me In the Temple of Heaven

Undress Me In the Temple of Heaven

"Truth is stranger than fiction" - I've often heard that phrase.

And I found it applies to the travel memoir, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, the story told by Susan Jane Gilman of her trip to China with a university friend Claire, some 23 years after it happened. Trying to figure out what caused the series of events in the book - the two 21-year old girls, or China itself - is not quite easy. Maybe it was the interaction of the two that was the key, or maybe it was that China in the mid-1980s was just a catalyst that would change these two girls in such different and dramatic ways.

The author has no easy answers herself. As it was, it took her over 20 years to write about it. Changing the name and identity of her travel companion, Claire, made it easier, too.

The book is not all serious - there are amusing parts, and the travel sections on Hong Kong, Shanghai, Dailin, Beijin, Guilin, and other areas of China are informative. I had the impression that the author must have a prodigious and photographic memory. The small details of the inconveniences of travel, the events, people, environment, and the dialogue are all set down vividly as if the story happened just recently.

Somehow it seems as if only these two travelers, among the backpackers and other tourists they met, had such uncomfortable experiences. Chalk it up to youth or culture shock, it was obvious these bright young Ivy League graduates were not prepared to meet the privations of the Third World of the 1980s.The book ends with loose ends, threads that needed to be tied up, and problems that would have been better resolved. But in the real world, I guess it doesn't always happen that way.

I recommend the book for anyone who would like to travel to distant, foreign parts but who is unsure about how he or she could or would react to dramatic environmental and cultural differences. It makes a good learning lesson.

Book provided by the publisher, for my objective review.

Apr 12, 2009

Tokyo Fiancee by Amelie Nothomb. book review

Tokyo Fiancee
Amelie Nothomb writes this as a work of fiction, though the main character has her name and Belgian background.

Tokyo Fiancee begins in 1989 when Amelie, who was born in Japan and lived five years there, returns to Tokyo to learn the language and reacquaint herself with the country.

What better way to accomplish this than to get a Japanese boyfriend? Though this was not a plan, Amelie becomes involved with her student, Rinri, a university student whom she tutors in French. The book covers Rinri's cross-cultural friendship with Amelie, and his courtship, which includes trips to different tourist sites in Japan, including a climb of Mt. Fuji to watch the sunrise, and several luxurious days on the island of Sado.

Only age 21 when she returns to Japan for the first time since her childhood, Amelie has all the vigor and impatience of youth and tells Rinri she is energized by tall mountains and heights. Thus her solo foray into snowy mountains, where she gets lost and barely survives an overnight blizzard.

How does this show of independence sit with Rinri, who has given her an engagement ring and gotten the approval of both sets of parents for their eventual marriage?

I enjoyed the insights into Japanese culture and food, the depiction of the gentlemanly Rinri, and the way that Amelie is able to handle cultural differences while at the same time trying to become more Japanese. There is a lot of good natured humor and the book is easy reading. I finished it in three sittings. I enjoyed it but the ending left me wondering a little....

The descriptions of her mad rush up and down Mt. Fuji, the natural beauty of Japan, and her frankness about the culture also make the book worthwhile.

"While I waited, I was witness to an extraordinary sight. After midnight, luminous processions began to climb the mountain. Apparently, there were people courageous enough to attempt the ascent at night, no doubt to avoid spending too much time waiting for sunrise in the cold air. For no one should miss the ceremony of the sunrise."(p. 81)

(The novel is translated from the French by Alison Anderson, Europa editions).

Submitted for the Lost in Translation Reading Challenge.


Apr 10, 2009

Book Review: Fidali's Way by George Mastras

It took me the longest time to get through this book, which I wanted to read and finish, not out of a sense of duty, but because I was really enjoying it!

However, there are pages and pages of detailed landscape and people descriptions, background information on the area, political and geopolitical history, philosophical musings by all the characters, not to mention their personal histories. All these were important to the adventure/suspense novel, Fidali's Way,  nevertheless.

I kept going through all four parts, 60 chapters, and 385 pages of dense writing, partly because I liked the storytelling and partly because of the author's way with words. His descriptions of locale, people, their characters and their motives are quite compelling.

This is a love story involving two sets of people whose paths cross though they are from different backgrounds and cultures. Nick from New York, Yvette from France, and Simon from Scotland meet in India and Pakistan while backpacking and trekking in the volatile region. Nick flees Pakistan, wanted for two murders - one he didn't commit and the other an accident. Simon is in jail for murder. Yvette's recklessness leads to her undoing.

Nick, traumatized by his loss of Yvette, flees into India with the help of two tribesmen, Fidali and his friend Ghulam, and reaches the Brigadoon-like serenity of the village of Gilkamosh in the Vale of Kashmir. There Nick becomes involved in another love triangle - with the resident doctor Aysha and her childhood sweetheart, Kazim.

How these love stories play out against the backdrop of war, skirmishes, and terror attacks against Indian forces and the inhabitants of Gilkamosh by mujahedeen, is part of the intriguing plot that kept me going.

To cope with his past and the present, Nick learns from the seemingly simple and uncomplicated tribesman, Fidali, whose way of living and thinking leaves a lasting impression on him.


The Map Thief  by Heather Terrell links 15th century, Ming Dynasty, Admiral Zheng He with Portugal explorer Vasco da Gama, also of the 15th century. The two men sailed their ships on the same routes, perhaps 70 years apart.

How a map of Zheng He's travels lands up in the hands of the Portugese navigator to Vasco da Gama is the mystery the novel tries to solve. In present day New York, Mara Coyne, antiques finder, hopes to solve the mystery after being called in to investigate and recover a priceless 15th century map stolen from an archaeological dig in China. How did a copy of this map reach Portugal so many years ago? And where is that copy now?

The book takes you from New York, to China, and to Lisbon, and blends historical facts with fiction to explore an interesting theory regarding the first sailors to "discover" America and the New World.


Apr 1, 2009

Book Review: A Gift from Brittany by Marjorie Price

A Gift from Brittany
I thought at the beginning that A Gift from Brittany would be a book along the lines of Frances Mayes' Tuscany books - "love letters" to Italy that are light, mostly cheerful accounts of life in Tuscany.

Marjorie Price's life-altering experience living in an obscure hamlet in Brittany, France, however, the author describes as a "Memoir of Love and Loss in the French Countryside." Though it has cheerful and colorful aspects, the memoir is a poignant story of love lost but also of true friendship found in an quiet corner of rural France.

A young artist in Chicago in the 1960s, the author Midge decides to travel to Paris for several months, against her parents' wishes. In France she meets Yves, an up and coming artist, and as in a fairy tale story, falls in love and marries the Frenchman. They have a daughter, both continue to paint, and all seems to go well until Yves decides to buy a farm in Brittany. The farm turns out to be several farmhouses, half of a hamlet.

The extensive renovations needed to the farm houses, which Midge finds herself in charge of managing and financing, and Yves' obsession with the idea of his being a great painter, a "genius", is balanced somewhat by Midge's developing friendship with a supportive and sympathetic neighbor, Jeanne.

Jeanne is in her late 60s, cannot read or write, never used a telephone, does not have television, has never traveled to the ocean that is not far away, and has been working all her life without electricity or running water. Jeanne however becomes a protector to Midge, an American who does not know the ways of rural Brittany.

The memoir describes days in Brittany with its difficulties, its disappointments, its successes, as well as the joy of good friendship. The book really tells two stories - the story of an American artist in France transformed by her experience there, and the life story of Jeanne, a simple Breton woman.

Of Jeanne, the author wrote:"Like a messenger heralding her arrival, her low starched white lace coif revealed her to be a Morbihanaise. Everyone greeted her; she struck up a conversation with everyone." The memoir describes how these two helped each other and how in the end, Midge feels regret and wonders if different decisions along the way might have made the final outcomes any different.

Marjorie Price writes with the eye of the artist, with detail and a love of color. Her descriptions of her painting and of landscape easily transport you to Brittany, its farms, coastline, and the feel of its people.
"In summer, the heat was so intense it was a streak of fire on my back and soaked up the moisture on the paper, making it difficult to work with the transparency and fluidity of watercolor. But on cool days, or on days when the fog lingered and moisture hung in the air, I could blend the light of the morning mist with the emerging sun, lay color over color like a theme in a fugue that fades as another unfolds...." - (ch. 15)
I recommend this heart-warming book for its story, its descriptions of people and place, and its exploration of relationships, some that "worked" and others that did not.

I have read A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle and Under the Tuscan Sun, enjoyed them, but had no real desire to read the follow up books that both authors wrote. A Gift from Brittany I found to be much more serious and realistic, and true, and very moving.

Book received from the author for review.

Empresses of Seventh Avenue by Nancy MacDonell: Historical Novel

 Fashion in Paris and New York City during WWII   Empresses of Seventh Avenue World War II, New York City, and the Birth of American Fashion...